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on 16 July 2010
In this book, Solzhenitsyn takes the reader through a day in life of Ivan Denisovich in minute detail. I found it totally absorbing and thought about it so much that I had to re read. It's a testament to human endurance and spirit. Although a study of life in the labour camps should be depressing, the book is uplifting in that the characters turn their situation around to make the best of a bad lot.I felt humbled after reading the book and privileged to have glimpsed into the life of this couragous man.
Like The Cancer Ward, by the same author, the names are obviously unfamiliar being set in Soviet Russia and I personally found this quite hard work as I kept refering back. This is my only negative comment.
Solzhenitsyn of course writes from experience and explains his survival in the camps. I couldn't help but compare his situaton with our own comfortable world. Mental and physical processes linked to get maximum value from every morsel. Every morsel appreciated to the full.
Be warned, reading this could change your eating habits.
A great and absorbing read.
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on 24 December 2012
Alexander Solzhenitsyn experienced life in the gulag for 8 years. This semi-autobiographical novel distils that experience into one bitter winters day of his protagonist, Ivan Denisovich Shukov. There are no chapters, and nothing particularly happens. Nonetheless I found this to be a profoundly moving book.

Survival was about remaining inconspicuous, taking joy from whether you got a potato in your soup or not and making it to the end of the day. There is no polemicising about the injustice of it all. Just a matter of fact description of how prisoners managed to make life just a little more bearable where they could, under the discretion of guards both as much a prisoner as the inmates and still able to send someone to probable death in freezing solitary confinement.

It is the systematic, bureacratic, industrialised nature of this imprisonment that is the most chilling realisation when reading. There's no hatred for these prisoners. No ideological zeal in the camp guards. The guards are there because the prisoners must be guarded and the prisoners are there because... well, it doesn't matter.

This is what really happened to tens of millions of people and this book shows how the Russian people made it through Stalin's reign. Not by bombast and fearless defiance, but by quietly getting on with it in the hope tomorrow would be different.
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on 24 August 2014
I love a story with a lot of descriptive narrative, and that is precisely what you get here. The title tells you exactly what you are going to experience, just one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, a man stuck in a gulag working hard labour, in extreme conditions, with next to no nutrition, and yet somehow making the day work for him, taking advantage of any small piece of luck that comes his way. I have enjoyed novels from a number of Russian authors, but Solzhenitsyn goes to the top of the class.
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on 19 September 2013
First read this as a teenager in the 60s and found the book absolutely compelling. I remember feeling the unbearable cold and the despair of the powerless. These people were not criminals, but a vast system of prison camps were stuffed with people who were beaten to obtain "confessions" by fanatics. Managed to obtain a used copy of the Solzhenitsyn approved text through Amazon. Have to say it has not lost it's impact
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on 16 March 2017
Deceptively simple prose illustrating the human condition of a life bound by restraint. An incredible read. If Barbara Pym or Jane Austen lived in Soviet Russia, this is what we would have read from those authors. It is a story of how to live.
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on 22 August 2017
A fantastic book, a little depressing but it was so enthralling I could not put it down. I felt I was looking over his shoulder as events happened
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on 4 February 2014
I bought this as I had read it after Solzhenitsyn died, I thought I should read something by him and got it from the library - I couldn't put it down, if you never read another book in your life READ THIS ONE, I can't sing its praises highly enough, the descriptions of mealtimes/food will put you right there with Ivan, and its about ONE DAY, just one day.
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on 1 September 2012
This novel is set over the course of a single day. It is a day that starts at 5am and ends at 10pm under the strict orders of the camp officials. Despite not having much of a storyline this book is extremely easy to read and manages to keep its readers' attention throughout. But how does it do this if there is no plot? Whilst reading this novel I felt like I was continuously being educated about the Stalinist era and learning a much more personal side to it, a side you don't get to study in the classroom. I was introduced to the characters in such a way that I felt as if I knew them, I could picture them clearly in my mind and most of all I could see how most of them were just normal people. Work camps weren't full of spies and criminals, there were many people who confessed to apparent crimes in order to put a stop to the interrogations they faced mainly in the form of different methods of torture and there were even prisoners of war who had escaped the Germans and were then accused of being spies. I learnt about the importance a small stone could have in a prisoner's life and the different mentalities prisoners adopted in order to survive day-to-day without going crazy. One fascinating aspect of the camps was the politics that took place. Each zek (camp prisoner) had his place within his work gang meaning that some zeks enjoyed privileges that others could only dream about. Call me ignorant but I had no idea prior to reading this novel that the politics amongst the prisoners played such an important role in camp life. Of course I knew there were camp officials and guards who maintained order but I discovered that the main authority actually came from the other zeks and the knowledge that one man's actions could affect the rations his whole gang received for the day.

The literary style of this novel is highly intelligent, switching seamlessly between author and narrator, rather than telling it simply from a third person point of view. This narrative style allows the reader to gain factual knowledge about this era whilst simultaneously gaining an understanding of Shukhov's character and the mental strength required to survive in those harsh conditions.
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on 7 November 2015
A very good and readable book.
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on 22 August 2017
Very short, but fascinating book. I finished it in a day - I see now why it's a classic.
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